How Many Links Are Too Many Links?

Click to enlarge this visualization. Created using Processing by Nick Bilton. Data collection by Evan Sandhaus.

I repeatedly hear from people with information overload disorder. From news and information sites to blogs, social networks, tweeters, emails, and on and on, the blizzard of information has easily surpassed category 5 levels.

To understand how much content effluvia we’re subjected to, I wanted to see how many links are on the homepage of popular websites. For example, if I go to the homepage of the Huffington Post, I see 720 links, in one shot. Then click inside to a story and you’ve nearly doubled that number—it ads up pretty quickly. What about the tech blogs? BoingBoing Gadgets, 514. Gizmodo, 468. Engadget 432, all on one page. And on average, fewer than 1% of the links on news sites and blogs actually point to rich content, 99% are navigation and other article headlines. Aggregation site Techmeme has a whopping 1081 links.

This visualization takes 98 of the top websites, from different genres, and organizes them alphabetically, with varying circle sizes to represent the number of links on their respective homepage. That’s 36,128 total links from these 98 sites. You can easily see how a day spent online navigating your favorite news, blogs, and information sites, checking in with your Google Reader feeds, following a twitter stream of a couple of hundred people, and clicking on your email a few dozen times (likely an understatement for most of us) can expose you to well over 100,000 links in a single day.

Granted, we probably don’t see all these links, but they’re being pushed at us in the hopes that we do. And maybe this isn’t such a bad thing? The beauty of the internet is the ability to link. To thread through the content flow and create our own narrative. Or, is today’s internet akin to the wild west of the early days of newspapers, where there were 80 to 100 headlines on a single front page?